There are surely many other aspects to add in order to describe what
can reduce our mental abilities and to describe what can prevent or
restrain this process.
Yet, it seems to me essential to understand that mental degeneration
is much less a fatality than it is conceived presently, and that there
won't be a miracle pill to avoid it, but inversely, we'll have to question
the fundamentals of education and agree to learn how to manage our thoughts
differently on a daily basis.
G) Better understanding our elders
There are so many things to improve for those already affected.
In retirement homes, it's pretty usual to see people affected with
Alzheimer's disease, or other forms of dementia, treated as children,
as people who don't understand anymore, as idiots, morons, crazy, or
even as animals or plants.
And it's even worse, when one don't communicate with them anymore,
except to infantilize them, to give them injunctions, to scold them,
without being able to listen to them and to understand them. Or even,
when they are left as simple furniture, and when those in charge of
them don't even talk to them when they are treating them.
Most of these people lived for 70, 80 or 90 years or more. They have
a life experience that we probably don't have (depending on the age
difference we have with them), and may never have. They have a consciousness,
they have physical needs, but also emotional needs. They are indeed
often absent. But in the moments they are present, they keep for a long
time a great lucidity on what's happening around them, and on their
But we can never know, when they aren't communicating, whether they
are present or not at what is going on around them.
They won't be able to make big speeches in order to tell it to us,
but it's about instantaneous intuitive understanding, or related to
experience; and it's not about memory or logic.
In order to better understand, we can compare the human functioning
to how a television works. When the message scrambles on the screen,
it has nothing to do with the content of the program being broadcast.
It's the same with the persons for whom brain faculties are affected.
We no longer have access to their entire personality, but it's only
the link which is broken. It's not the person herself who is affected,
but her link to the world. This is handicapping her to lead her life
in autonomy and this is requiring a lot of work of questioning for the
close people, for, only they can still strive to learn to understand
what their elder is living.
Only then, can they really help them. For, this help can only be based
on trust. Yet, without understanding the person, she can only reject
the one who wants to help her, and simply endure grudgingly all the
acts that would be provided to her.
If we are able to connect with the heart to those persons, then it's
not longer possible to treat them without regard. We don't really have
access to what they are going through, so it's then more difficult to
make our empathy work with them. But, if we are able to understand that
they need, as much as any other person, presence, love, support, kindness,
we will have a much greater chance of being able to help them efficiently,
and they will give it back. And those needs are probably even much more
important for these persons, for, what they are living, they don't really
understand it completely anymore and what we put them through, is anguishing
And even outside pathologies, as the memory decreases inexorably with
age; every person having old parents will have to deal with their aging
process. Few yet understand them.
When our parents no longer understand us, no longer listen to us anymore,
are more concerned about their little domestic problems or about their
health, it's not out of selfishness, or because they have changed. It's
because their abilities are decreasing. They are often aware of it,
but they hide it most of the time (unconsciously) and try to face it
head up, doing as before if they can, but not succeeding as well as
before. The best way to mask that we can no longer understand, follow,
listen to others; is to bring back everything to oneself and to bring
the topics of conversation back to very concrete subjects, always the
same, that we still master. This is not a flaw, it's just the mark of
a masked inability. And this is not dementia.
Understanding this can change completely the situation. For, when a
child understands that his/her parent gets to that point, he/her can
then understand also that it's no longer the role of the parent to help,
support, listen, but it is to him/her that this role returns from now
on. The sooner this is understood, the better things will happen. It
allows a new trust to develop between parents and children. It allows
to slow down the mental aging process, but above all it allows to avoid
loneliness that most elder person experience.
And in the same vein, when we understand that masking our own oversights
and mistakes could help the disease to settle or evolve, it's then possible
to learn to begin to become aware of those oversights and mistakes and
to learn to acknowledge them in front of others. For, as a result of
masking them, it's mostly ourself that we are fooling, preventing us
for trying to remedy our loss of memory.
Claire De Brabander
This text has been written originally in French and has been translated
by the author (who is French speaking). The translation quality is therefore
not guaranteed. Don't hesitate to report any error. See more details